West Slope contingent speaks out against EPA rules

Kelly Sloan, The Business Times

Tom Mathers believes proposed regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants could threaten large industries and small businesses in Western Colorado.

“I have asthma. I live close to a coal plant in Craig. And the only time it bothers me is where I come to the city. Coal plants are not the problem,” said Mathers, a Moffat County commissioner.

Mathers was among a contingent of Western Slope officials who urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to exercise restraint in imposing new rules on power plants. They spoke at a session in Denver held as part of an 11-city national “listening tour” to gather public comments.

The EPA is developing regulations in response to a call by President Barack Obama for the federal agency to complete new carbon emission standards for new and existing power plants. A draft proposal is scheduled for release in June, at which time additional public comments will be sought.

As the only stop on the listening tour in the mountain west, the session in Denver drew a large group from the Western Slope — in particular Moffat County and Craig, where a coal-fired power plant and nearby mines that extract coal for electric generation constitute the backbone of the local economy.

“Let’s use good science and common sense,” Mathers said.

It was a comment echoed by others, including Ray Beck, a member of the Craig City Council who also spoke on behalf of Club 20, a coalition of governments, businesses and individuals in Western Colorado.

Beck said Club 20 supports the coal mining industry because of its role in the regional economy.

But opposition to more stringent emission standards came from elsewhere, too.

Thompson Stanfield, a retired International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers official and Adams County resident, said he worked in coal-fired power plants and improving technology makes the regulations unnecessary. “These proposals are wrong and will not protect the environment,” Stanfield said.

Still other speakers supporting the coal industry came from as far away as Gillette, Pine Bluffs and Worland, Wyo. Several expressed disappointment the EPA wasn’t conducting sessions in rural areas where the greatest effects of the regulations would be felt.

A number of environmental groups and individuals took the opposite position, however, calling for tougher air controls on power plants. A few even proposed an end to the use of fossil fuels.

Following the EPA session, many in the Western Colorado contingent also attended a rally at the Capitol in support of the coal industry.

The event —  sponsored by the Colorado and Wyoming mining associations as well as Americans For Prosperity Colorado and the Independence Institute — drew a crowd of about 150, including many from the Western Slope.

State Rep. Ray Scott, a Republican from Grand Junction, was among several speakers who talked about the importance of coal and urged the EPA not to needlessly damage the industry. “This is another example of the type of overregulation that is killing us economically,” Scott said. “We are here today to tell the EPA and this administration that enough is enough.”

Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, said the rally was meant to “give a voice to miners and people living in rural communities who are being disenfranchised by the EPA and state government.”

“While we don’t know exactly what standards for existing plants will look like, if the new plant standards are a model, then we will have problems,” Sanderson said.

Proponents of more stringent carbon emission standards had a different message, though,.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia joined a coalition of environmental groups — including Conservation Colorado, Environment Colorado and the Sierra Club —in calling for the EPA to impose strong carbon emission standards for power plants, which they consider significant contributors to climate change and extreme weather events.

“With Colorado and our nation increasingly feeling the effects of a changing climate, bold action is needed to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, which are responsible for 40 percent of the U.S. carbon pollution,” Chris Arend of Conservation Colorado stated in a news release.

Sanderson said that message doesn’t resonate with coal miners or those who support the coal mining industry. “The people who made the trip to Denver for the hearing and the rally are battling for their livelihoods. We need to preserve these jobs.”